Memo to the publisher: We need a ‘vehicle of Indian intelligence’

The editor Elias Boudinot described The Cherokee Phoenix as “a vehicle of Indian intelligence.”

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

A memo to the publisher (either to the next owner of Indian Country or to any news operation that’s going to serve that readership now.)

First question you have got to ask yourself is “Why?” Why are you doing this?” Odds are you will lose (or my word, invest) a lot of money. There are good reasons, but they have nothing to do with the financial enterprise. Those reasons might range from providing a real service to Indian Country to creating jobs. Howard Rock, the legendary founder and editor of The Tundra Times, once called it “an unselfish venture.”

Yet this is an essential venture. There is no chance that stories important to Indian Country are going to be covered by mainstream media. Oh, perhaps, once in awhile. But nothing systemic. It comes down to this: No one has to explain to an editor of a Native publication why it’s a story. That can only happen in a medium that serves American Indian and Alaska Native readers.

But money has to be part of the equation because it gives you independence. And independence is critical to your success. And, yes, the business model has changed — and will change again. Right now the best business model out there is a hybrid nonprofit, profit operation. I think of the Tyee in Vancouver. It’s web site is well organized. It delivers news through a variety of channels. The first thing you see on its page is a pitch: “Canada needs more independent journalism. Become a Tyee builder.” These days journalism needs people who are willing to write a check for no other reason than the good work you will do. Give them a reason.

My other favorite thing about the Tyee. It has a fellowship for writers. So in addition to paying people for stories, it gives a fellowship through its nonprofit arm for writers to work on a longer story. A few months, a year? No problem. Time to investigate. Time to write. Best of all, time to think.

There are three things a news organization must do to serve readers better.

First, there has to be a visible editor. There is a reason the hiring of an editor at The Washington Post or The New York Times is a front page story. Editors bring their personality (even their quirks) into a newsroom. They set standards. An editor is an evangelist for the mission.

A Cherokee editor, John Rollin Ridge was the founder of The Sacramento Bee. He divided newspaper editors into “true editors” and “apologies for editors.” True editors, he said, must know “everything” and must carry a vast “fund of general information, for there is not a subject which engages men’s minds, in whatever range of science or literature, upon which he is not peremptorily called to write.” Ridge was also clear about what that meant. The Bee should be independent instead of a paper where the editors were “nothing more than the sneaking apologists of scoundrels who pay them for the trouble of lying.”

Another version of that story was told by Ora Eddleman, whose family owned The Twin Territories and the Muskogee Daily Times where she later worked as a wire editor: “There’s nothing like a newspaper newsroom to give you a well-rounded education.” She was a true editor.

Second, tell us what’s important. Every story is not the same. There should be a method for determining what’s important. And the medium then tells its readers. Yes, it’s easy to post stories that get a lot of clicks. But that’s not news. News is something that informs and once in a while, inspires. We are better citizens when we are informed. Elias Boudinot had the best phrase when he was editing The Cherokee Phoenix. He called it “a vehicle of Indian intelligence.” Exactly.

Third, set high standards and be transparent. Hire talented people and then trust them to do their jobs. Be open. No news organization can effectively do its job when its operations are invisible. Make clear who does what with a masthead. Perhaps publish a monthly, or at least an annual report, including numbers. Where does the money come from? What are the costs of business? What’s the overall health?

I have buried (or been around a burial) of many news organizations in my time. And most died without warning. I found out about the Seattle P-I on a ferry; a TV station broke the story. Let people know what’s going on, and, surprise, surprise, they will help.

One more thing: About that why.

This is a moment in history where the free flow of information is critical. Indian Country needs a vehicle of Indian intelligence. As Elias Boudinot wrote in 1832 (as he was losing his editorship of The Cherokee Phoenix) “I do conscientiously believe it to be the duty of every citizen to reflect upon the dangers with which we are surrounded; to view the darkness which seems to lie before our people— our prospects, and the evils with which we are threatened; to talk over all these matters, and, if possible, come to some definite and satisfactory conclusion.”

That is why.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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Indian Country Today had its beautiful moments; expecting a new chapter

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Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Nearly every Native American journalist in the country can tell you what our national media ought to look like. We’ve all closed our eyes and dreamt the ideal news vehicle. We know what stories need to be told. And some of us have tried to make that dream so. Most of the time we are unsuccessful.

Yet there have been beautiful moments.

One of those moments was the 1970s-era American Indian Press Association. It was a news service based in Washington, D.C., and Albuquerque, N.M. Its reports were typewritten, photocopied, and mailed to tribal newspapers across the country. The press service produced remarkable journalism. Then AIPA’s first news director, Richard LaCourse, Yakama, set high standards for craft.

Charles Trimble wrote about AIPA for Indian Country Today: We “wrestled with the concept of objectivity and truth, when those ideals might come in conflict with what may be seen as Indian interest or just cause. The issue came to a head during the AIM occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 when some of the ideologically-motivated colleagues in AIPA were said to have abused AIPA press cards for other than reportorial purposes. AIPA was quick to issue a policy statement to its members. That document had the solid gold ring to it of Dick LaCourse’s ethics and strong writing.” Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970 and its first executive director.

But the journalism, the stories, are only a part of the enterprise. There is also the business. How do you pay for what you do? Or better, how do you pay for what you want to do?

AIPA had no clear path in that regard. It was not a non-profit, so it could not raise serious money from foundations. And neither tribes nor tribal newspapers could support its operations. It closed its doors in 1975.

One of the great AIPA scoops came after its demise. LaCourse had gone to work as editor of the Confederated Umatilla Journal in 1976. But his Washington sources were still deep and he uncovered a memo from the Office of Management and Budget laying out a strategy to “work the federal government out of the Indian business.” The idea of the memo, written by Harold Borgstrom, was that self-determination should “lead to the eventual cessation of special Federal Indian programs.”

There was a roar from Indian Country. The memo was shelved. LaCourse (and journalism) had a beautiful moment.

But LaCourse, like so many of us, always wanted that next great Indian vehicle for news. He was back in Washington in the early 1980s working to raise money for a serious publication sponsored by the Council of Energy Resource Tribes. He told me that he wanted something like The Wall Street Journal with deep reporting about economics and energy issues. The CERT Report was published, and did some good work, but it never reached LaCourse’s lofty ideas.

Along the way several national publications have come and gone. I published a magazine “Indian Youth.” Then there was “NATIONS,” which billed itself as a news weekly. I think there were three issues. Or my favorite, the beautiful magazine, “Native Americas,” that was published by Cornell in the 1990s.

But the intractable problem is that a newspaper, magazine, or digital web site needs millions of dollars and time. It’s hard to get both, at least at the same time. The successful enterprise requires defying gravity.

Indian Country Today became a national publication after Tim Giago rebranding his very successful Lakota Times and began hiring freelancers, opened a Washington Bureau, and at one point, had editions printed across the country. (Giago is being honored this year for his legacy by the Native American Journalists Association.) Then in 1998 Giago sold his paper to the Oneida Nation of New York.

This was interesting because Giago had championed private ownership of the media. Giago’s career has been defined by his independence.

But I suspect his thinking was a tribal owner would have deeper pockets and could transcend the problem of money and time. And with Indian Country Today you can make that case. There was a lot of excellent reporting done over the years.

But the money and time paradox did not go away. In 2011 Indian Country Today became Indian Country Today Media Network, a digital publication. Then, not long ago, Indian Country tried another direction, returning to print with a magazine. I’ll admit: I immediately subscribed hoping that it would work.

But print in any form is a tough business. I can only imagine how much it cost. So it’s not a surprise to learn that Indian Country is moving into hiatus status this week (a scoop by Victor Rocha’s Pechanga.Net) while it looks for a buyer. That’s not likely when you’re not publishing because the value drops the instant you stop creating. Hard truth.

Indian Country still has remarkable talent and media outlets. Rocha’s is a digital peek at the day. Indianz is a must read for breaking news. And there is Native News Online.

The problem is that none of these vehicles have deep pockets. That means there is little or no money for the writers, photographers, and artists, who create content. And that’s what we need: Money for ideas. A fund that values writers no matter where their content surfaces.

It’s great that social media broadcasts what we write to a larger audience. But articles that are researched, vetted, edited, get the same traction as pieces that are invented.  We need to support serious work — and Indian Country Today for all its faults did just that.

Then, one survivor in the Native media world is News From Indian Country. It’s private. Independent.  It’s profitable. (Disclosure: I own a few shares and I serve on the board.) And, it’s small. News From Indian Country works because it keeps expenses in check. It still serves print readers (although much fewer than a few years ago) has an online presence and uses YouTube and other social media to get its stories out in new forms.

If time and money are the two big challenges, there is a now a third one, change. The media world is changing so fast that it is nearly impossible to develop and execute a strategy. Media companies all around the world are trying to figure that one out. And if and when they do … the landscape changes again.

I’ve seen this firsthand with Trahant Reports. My content is free so it can be used by any media. My goal is to get serious public policy discussions in front of tribal citizens and I figure the best way to that is to let every publication have access. (So even competitors run the same story.) But I am only one person so it’s not a lot of material compared to a news organization.

It’s easy to examine any news organization and see how things could be different. We think: There are a hundred ways Indian Country Today could have made it. And that’s just as true when I look at my own failed media enterprises — and I have a check list of those — and then I think “if only.”

If only we had more money for creators. If only we had more funders. If only … never mind. There will be new media enterprises. And new failures. Along the way there will be beautiful moments.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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Cecil D. Andrus, RIP (a morning memory)


The year was 1977. I was editor of the Sho-Ban News and Idaho’s Gov. Cecil Andrus had recently been named by President Jimmy Carter as Secretary of the Interior. If I remember right, this interview took place in his Boise office.

Andrus was a politician who gave clear answers and was a great storyteller. I remember our last interview, I wanted to find out more about Joe Garry from the perspective of Idaho Democrats. Andrus wouldn’t go there. Not his topic. Next.

At the time of this photograph, tribes were not happy with the Carter administration because of a national water policy that pushed a lot of the decision-making to states (a problem for tribal water rights that pre-date many states). The policy was later changed because of the inside work of Forrest Gerard, Suzan Harjo, and Tom Fredericks.

I remember a story Andrus told me when he was at Interior. He said one of the frustrating things about that job was how hard it was to effect a policy decision. As governor of Idaho, he said, I could make a terrible decision and make it so. But as Interior Secretary it was difficult to make a good decision so.

After Interior he was re-elected Governor. Twice.

RIP. — Mark Trahant

Congress needs more time to finish spending bills; shutdown ahead?

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Speaker Paul Ryan at a news conference in Oregon Wednesday said “most people don’t want a government shutdown, ourselves included.” (Photo via YouTube)

Trahant Reports

The September Mess has started early. Congress will return to Washington next week facing some really tricky issues ranging from an increase in the debt limit to spending money so that the federal government can operate. President Donald J. Trump in Phoenix raised the stakes, saying he would favor a shutdown of the government unless Congress includes funding for the border wall.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, at an event in Oregon, said “I don’t think a government shutdown is necessary, and I don’t think most people want to see a government shutdown, ourselves included.” Funding for a border wall has already passed the House and is now waiting on the Senate.

But that’s where this mess gets tricky. It would take 60 votes to move that spending legislation forward (which is why the president keeps tweeting that the filibuster should go away) and the votes are not there. Democrats in both the House and Senate reaffirmed their opposition to the wall.

And there is another problem. Ryan said the Congress doesn’t have enough time to finish this year’s budget by Sept. 30 (the deadline for spending) and so it’s likely there will be another Continuing Resolution that funds the government through the end of 2017.

“The fact is though, given the time of year it is and the rest of the appropriations we have to do, we’re going to need more time to complete our appropriations process, particularly in the Senate. So that’s something that I think we all recognize and understand, that we’re going to have to have some more time to complete our appropriations process,” Ryan said.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president sees the wall as vital to national security. “The President has made no secret that this is a priority for him, and he continues to advocate for it and he’ll continue to make sure that we move forward to secure the border and secure our country,” she told reporters.

There is an unanswered question here: Will the Trump administration demand border funding in the Continuing Resolution? (Get the shutdown going sooner, rather than later?) Or will the fight be held off until the holidays?

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president sees the wall as vital to national security. “The President has made no secret that this is a priority for him, and he continues to advocate for it and he’ll continue to make sure that we move forward to secure the border and secure our country,” she told reporters.

Indian Country is always hit hard by government shutdowns.

As I wrote last time around:  “So what will a closed federal government look like? History gives us a clue. There was a 21-day shutdown that started on December 16, 1995, and continued to January 6, 1996. According to the Congressional Research ServiceAll 13,500 Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employees were furloughed; general assistance payments for basic needs to 53,000 BIA benefit recipients were delayed; and estimated 25,000 American Indians did not receive timely payment of oil and gas royalties.

“And at the Indian Health Service, former IHS director Dr. Michael Trujillo, told Congress that the government closure “caused considerable hardship within Indian communities. One result of staff furloughs was difficulty in processing funds for direct services and to contracting and compacting tribes so the delivery of health services could continue. Those staff that continued providing health services were not paid on time. Threats to shut off utilities to our health facilities and even to stop food deliveries were endured. We reached a point where some private sector providers indicated that they might not accept patients who were referred from Indian Health facilities because of the Federal shutdown.”

Time for Plan B. And C. — Mark Trahant

Alaska’s Walker, Mallott seek second term; plus NM, Utah and Oklahoma races

*** Updated to include new candidate, maps.

Time flies. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott are seeking a second term for their independent partnership. (Photo via Facebook.)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

I have been avoiding politics. Last year I was consumed by dozens of races across the country, building data bases, checking names, and generally being enthusiastic. Now? Well, this year, I have been absorbed by the Republican plans to rewrite the Affordable Care Act, destroy Medicaid as we know it, and, as a by-catch, sabotage the Indian Health system.

Of course policy and politics are connected. The people we elect are the ones who make the decisions about our health care, our education, how much money the government spends and collects, or whether we’re at war or at peace. Imagine being a Native American politician in the Trump era. It would be an uphill climb to represent constituents as well as being a public advocate for Native people and community.

Labor Day is always the big weekend in politics. In an election year, it’s the date when campaigns really gear up, there is a crunch of about nine weeks until votes are counted. For the 2018 cycle, that marker is still more than a year away. Yet late summer is when candidates are recruited, a few take the plunge, and those who say yes, build campaign organizations and raise money.

There is a lot to report about American Indian and Alaska Native candidates.

Starting in Alaska where Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott are running for re-election. In 2014 Walker and Mallott ran a campaign that transcended party politics. Mallott, a Tlingit and former chief executive of Sealaska Corporation, had been the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor until he dropped out to join Walker. This was politics at its best. I remember being at several campaign events, including a couple panels I moderated, and was struck by the similarity of their messages (and more important, their tone) so coming together was good for the polis, a Greek word that means the ideal in a community.

Mallott told Juneau radio station KINY that the pair would again run as an independent team. “What ever we do, we’ll do together,” Mallott said. He said party labels do not come up in their governing plans because they’re more interested in solving problems. Walker and Mallott took office with the state facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis brought on by low oil prices and structural deficits. Mallott called it a slow rolling recession. “We need to put this behind us,” he said, “so Alaska can grow again.”

Walker and Mallott officially filed for re-election on August 21 as independent candidates.

This will be a tough race. Walker and Mallott have raised issues that are not exactly popular, such as reducing the state’s permanent dividend (per capita to you and me) as well as implementing new taxes to pay for government.

There are not that many independents in state governments (or the federal government, for that matter).  So it will be interesting to see if Democrats again choose to align with Walker and Mallott. (Alaska’s House is also run by a partnership of Republicans and Democrats working together, while the Senate remains under Republican leadership.)

For their part, Republicans are operating as if the Democrats will field a candidate (one name tossed about is former Sen. Mark Begich). The state’s party chair, Tuckerman Babcock told KTOO television that “from our perspective, having two Democrats running is a good thing.”

Walker and Mallott have a track record. If nothing else (and there is a lot more) they can be proud of expanding health care access in Alaska through Medicaid expansion. This program opened up health insurance to at least 35,000 additional Alaskans and improved the funding stream for the Alaska Native health system. The uninsured rate in the state dropped from 18.9 percent to 11.7 percent. A success story all around.

One measure of that success: A group of doctors is promoting a ballot initiative to codify the Medicaid program in Alaska (protecting the program no matter who is governor).


Kelly Zunie (Facebook photo)

Kelly Zunie is running for the Republican nomination for New Mexico’s lieutenant governor. She is a member of the Zuni Pueblo and served as Cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department for nearly three years.

Her campaign Facebook page said:  “Zunie is committed to meeting the needs of New Mexico’s private sector business owners to improve capacity to expand and the workforce. Zunie will also focus on the safety of New Mexico’s children and families.”

Former New Mexico Democratic Party Chair and candidate for Congress Debra Haaland. (Campaign photo)


On the Democratic side, Debra Haaland is running for New Mexico’s first congressional district. (Previous: Pueblo woman. Mom. Gourmet cook … candidate for Congress.) Haaland previously has been a Democratic nominee for Lt. Gov. and served as the state’s party chair. Now she’s running in a contested primary for the state’s most urban district (and only a little more than 3.5 percent Native American). She’s a member of the Laguna Pueblo.

The key to winning this race is building up enough financial resources and early ballot strength to win the primary. Haaland has already raised more than $150,000, including significant sums from Indian Country contributors. Joe Monahan’s New Mexico political blog put it this way: “Something a bit historic is happening in the early going in the Dem race for Congress. Large sums of money from Native America tribes and pueblos here and outside the state is starting to flow to Haaland, who would be the first Native American woman ever elected to the US House.”

Carol Surveyor, candidate for Congress in Utah.  (Facebook photo)

And in Utah, Carol Surveyor is running for the House in that state’s second congressional district. Surveyor is Navajo and a political organizer, co-founder of Utah League of Native American Voters. Surveyor told Enviro News Utah that it’s about time a Native American woman served in Congress. “Women of color are often overlooked in their opinions, their views, their leadership, and so forth,” she said. “Native Americans have traditionally been overlooked and forgotten in this country, women in native communities are traditionally matriarchal. Yet, there have been many native women who have run for public office. In the past, there are native women who have run for federal office, but unsuccessfully. Again, I think this is because politics is still viewed as a men’s game. My remark about “it is time,” refers to changing the game, and what better way to change the entire game than by electing a Native woman? Doing so would be a shift in the way many people the world over see the U.S., how many people see U.S. politics in this country, and it would show how progressives in the U.S. recognize and understand the forgotten voices. I am a forgotten voice.”

The web site,, posted a story that said J.D. Colbert, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is running for the 3rd Congressional District in Texas. “Voters there haven’t elected a Democrat there in 50 years but the banker and business leader is counting on a shift in demographics to send him to Washington, D.C. ‘America is in the crucible of seismic demographic transition. The impending death of the White majority and the rise of a more diverse New America is the fundamental cause of divided America and is the basis of the divisive cultural wars,’ said Colbert, who is also a descendant of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.”

Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols (photo: Oklahoma Municipal League)

Finally, there is an interesting twist in Oklahoma. Remember there are currently only two tribal members in the Congress, both Republicans. U.S. Representatives Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin. Cole is Chickasaw and Mullin is Cherokee. (Previous: Rancher, businessman, and yes, absolutely, a career politician.)

Now another Cherokee Nation tribal member, Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols is challenging Mullin. (This would be a first if both win primary contests: Tribal members on both sides of a congressional ballot.) Nichols is running as a Democrat.

Nichols told the Tahlequah Daily Press that he’s running because of the dysfunction in Washington.  “I’m accustomed to operating in a nonpartisan environment where ideas and practical considerations are the focus of discussions,” he said. “As the mayor of a small town, you have to look your constituents in the eye every day. That’s kept me grounded and reminded me there are real people affected by every decision I make, to never lose sight of that, and to make certain I stay connected with them and never forget whom I work for. That isn’t a political party.”

Nichols is a political science instructor at Northeastern State University and has worked as an information technology officer for a tribe and a school district.

That’s it. We’re off and running. More politics ahead. Watch for the hashtag, #NativeVote18.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant /


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Interactive map and spreadsheet of #NativeVote18 candidates. 






























Clues from history: Why Donald J. Trump’s presidency is over

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Lt. Col. Ely Parker and General U.S. Grant’s staff. (Library of Congress)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The Trump presidency ended yesterday.

“… Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee,” Donald J. Trump said.  “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned, totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”

The press is unfair to people who march at a neo-Nazi, white supremacists event?

Republicans, Democrats, corporate leaders, religious leaders, world leaders, Democrats, you name it, a broad coalition of humanity said the same thing. Hell. No.

“No, not the same,” tweeted Mitt Romney. “One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.”

Trump lost what was left of his ability to govern. An example of that was the topic that the New York City press conference was supposed to be about, infrastructure spending. This is an idea that ought to have broad support. Not any more. Few words about the plan were reported and anything that has a Trump label is now politically toxic.

The question now is how fast will the Trump administration crumble? When will people resign in good conscience? How quickly will Congress act to limit or remove some executive powers?

There are clues. And the record is mixed. Many state governments over the years have reached that point of chaos.

One of the most controversial examples is Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage, R for Racist as well as Republican. He has continued his term in office despite calling people of color and of Hispanic origin as “the enemy.” And the tribes in Maine have often been targets of the governor. The Bangor Daily News asked: “What has gone so wrong?”

“Given colonial-era history between Maine’s Native Americans and European settlers, it would be reckless to say that relations between the tribes and the state are at an all-time low but there’s no question that problems of historic proportions exist,” wrote Christopher Cousins. “In May 2015, two of Maine’s four tribes withdrew their representatives from the Legislature after a years of clashes, culminating with Gov. Paul LePage’s cancellation of his own four-year-old executive order in April 2015 that said the tribes would be consulted on state decisions that affect them … ‘We have gotten on our knees for the last time,’ Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot Nation, said on that historic day. ‘From here on out, we are a self-governing organization focused on a self-determining path.'”

In Arizona, Evan Mecham who ran for governor four times before hitting the winning combination, lasted a little more than a year before being impeached. He said working women are responsible for divorce, there was nothing wrong with calling black children, “pickaninnies,” and said Martin Luther King Jr. “didn’t deserve” a holiday. And his critics were a few dissident Democrats and a band of homosexuals. Mecham sort of ran up the score: Six felony indictments by a grand jury and impeachment proceedings, a recall, impeachment by the state House followed by a conviction in the Senate in April 1988.

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John Calloway Walton

Another governor who was tossed out over racial divisions was Oklahoma’s John Calloway Walton. A 1956 book called Walton’s election “a revolution.” He was a socialist and his primary target was the Ku Klux Klan.

“Within a few months, the State House in such an imbroglio that the word “revolution” is indeed an excellent choice,”according to The Chronicles of Oklahoma. “The capitol building became an armed fortress; and in fact, it had the outward semblance of a military strong point. The test of power between the Chief Executive and the Legislative Branch that ensued would seem incredible if it were not within the memory of many of us.”

Walton kept the legislature from meeting, declaring martial law, but that did not work. “Knowing he was in dire straits, the governor called a special session to create an anti-Klan bill, but the legislature claimed they would consider that after investigating the governor,” the Oklahoma Historical Society said. “Walton offered to resign in exchange for strong laws against the invisible empire, but again the legislators rebuffed him.”

There is an interesting connection between Walton and yesterday’s election in Alabama. Oklahoma legislators wanted to prevent a candidate from winning a crowded primary (as Walton had done) and so required a majority. That’s why there will be another primary between former state Supreme Court justice Roy Moore and Sen. Luther Strange. Ten states have such a system.

Another fall out from Trump’s press conference is that the removal of civil war memorials will move to the top of the debate.

Members of the American Indian Caucus in the Montana Legislature called for the removal of a Confederate memorial in Helena. “Today, we must recognize the fact that the Confederacy and its symbolism has stood for segregation, secession, and slavery,” said a letter from state lawmakers Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula; Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Rocky Boy; Rep. Bridget Smith, D-Wolf Point; Rep. George Kipp III, D-Heart Butte; Rep. Susan Webber, D-Browning; Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, D-Crow Agency; Rep. Rae Peppers, D-Lame Deer, and Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby. “The Confederate flag was even used by the Dixiecrats, a segregationist political party of the 1940s. The flag continues to serve as an emblem for racism and racial inequality for domestic terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other white nationalist organizations.”

The Southern Law Poverty Center reports there are at least 1,503 symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces, and at least 109 public schools named for prominent Confederates. “There is nothing remotely comparable in the North to honor the winning side of the Civil War,” the Southern Law Poverty Center said. One proof of that: How many schools (or monuments) are standing for Ely Parker?

Parker, a Seneca, drafted the documents that spelled out the surrender to be signed by General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865. “I am glad to see one real American here,” Lee said while shaking his hand. Lt. Col. Parker responded: “We are all Americans.”

Parker had another concern at the time, compassion. He wrote: “Generals Grant and Lee talked over the surrender then Lee rose and said, “General Grant I want to ask you something. If our positions were reversed I would grant it to you. My men are starving and I would ask if you would give them rations.” Grant asked, “How many men have you got?” “About twenty thousand,” said General Lee. General Grant came over to me then and told me to make out an order for rations for thirty thousand. He knew – he did not propose to have anyone suffer.”

Then Parker represents the complexity of the Native American experience in America. He became an officer because he could not practice law because only white men were admitted to the bar. So he became an engineer, later a military officer and a general, and still later, the first American Indian to represent the United States as head the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In that post he took on corruption. And, basically lost. Congress held hearings, blamed him for every problem at the BIA, and took away much of his authority making him a figurehead. As historian James Ring Adams wrote in American Indian Magazine: “He was an architect of Grant’s ‘Peace Policy,’ which ended Red Cloud’s War by accepting all of the Oglala Lakota’s terms. But Parker ran afoul of philanthropists who wanted to control Indian policy through their domination of the Board of Indian Commissioners. His enemies provoked a wearing Congressional hearing into his work. Even though he was exonerated of any criminality, Parker resigned in 1871. In later years, he expressed hurt that Grant had not supported him.”

Of course the BIA is an agency that Donald Trump still hasn’t picked anyone to lead. Then, why should anyone take that job now? This presidency is over.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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September will be a mess in Congress; budget, spending and debt fights ahead

One-party government? Get real.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

September is going to be a mess. Congress must sort out some really complicated fiscal issues. There is the budget, an increase in the debt limit, how much to spend on federal programs and services, and, if there’s time, tax reform.

This should be easy in a one-party government. Republicans come up with a budget plan. Then the House acts, the Senate does its thing, and President Donald J. Trump signs the idea into law. Easy. Except there is no Republican majority in Congress (other than the R listed by members’ names.)

The House is made up of at least three factions, or parties, and no majority. (The three groups are: Republicans, Democrats, and the more conservative House Freedom Caucus.) So in order to gather enough votes to pass a budget, or any other of the challenges, at least two of the three factions have to agree on a plan.

The Senate has its own divisions within the Republican Party. (The very reason why a Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act has not yet become law.)

And the White House is not on the same page either. The president proposed a stingy budget that’s been pretty much rejected by members of the House and the Senate (except the more conservative elements such as the House Freedom Caucus.)

For example the Trump administration proposed budget calls for $4.7 billion for the Indian Health Service, a cut of some $300 million or 6 percent of the agency’s budget. But a House spending plan calls for an increase of $97 million over last year’s levels. Indeed, the Appropriations Committee that funds IHS and the Bureau of Indian Affairs plans to spend a total of $4.3 billion more than the president requested on programs under its jurisdiction. (In general: The president’s budget reflects significant budget cuts across Indian Country, according to analysis by the National Congress of American Indians.)

The Senate will come up with its own spending plan. Then, in theory, the two houses will resolve their differences and agree on how much the federal government should spend next year (and the president can go along or veto the legislation and start all over).

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But no. That’s not how Congress is actually legislating these days. More often Congress agrees to a temporary spending plan based on last year’s budget, the Continuing Resolution. That’s an easier sell to members because it represents a last minute, throw up your hands, and do something, approach. The other alternative is a government shutdown. President Trump tweeted in May that “our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”

Yes, the budget is a mess. Period. Even take the word, “budget.” That’s a proposal from the president. But in Congress a “budget” is a spending limit that Congress imposes on itself. It sets a ceiling that each of the 12 Appropriations subcommittees have to live with. And, more important right now, the budget sets the rules for debate so the Senate can pass some legislation (such as the health care bill) with only 50 votes. (Most bills need 60 votes to stop a filibuster from stopping the process.)

Back to the congressional budget. Last month the Budget Committee approved a plan that would cut domestic spending by $2.9 trillion over the next decade. The full House will vote on this plan when it returns. It’s a bleak document that would end up slashing many of the programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives. Remember the appropriations committees would still spend the money; but the budget would act as an overall cap.

This budget plan starts off with historically low federal spending followed by even more severe budget cuts between now and 2027. To show how out of touch this budget is, it includes program cuts for Medicaid that were a part of the failed health care legislation. (What’s changed? Nothing.) This bill tips toward the conservatives who want more spending cuts to be sooner, as in right now.

That makes the problem political. There are probably not enough votes to make this budget so. A few Republicans don’t see this harsh approach as good government. And even if the votes are found in the House, the Senate is another story. Think health care.

And if this budget cannot pass, it’s not likely there is another one that would. Democrats in the House say: “Congress cannot continue to underfund these crucial investments … (and) without relief from these spending caps, vital government programs are facing significant cuts for fiscal year 2018 that would have significant effects on American families all across the country.”

And the budget is only one fiscal crisis. Another issue that is immediate and serious involves the debt limit. That’s the amount of money the federal government can borrow is currently set at $19.85 trillion (federal debt exceeds that level now, but the Secretary of Treasury can basically shuffle money from different accounts). Conservatives want spending cuts as part of any deal to increase the debt limit. As Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, and a member of the Chickasaw Tribe, told MSNBC. A debt limit increase without spending cuts is “like having a credit card and saying, ‘I’ve reached my limit, I’m just going to change the limit higher without changing any of my spending habits.’”

But, like on the budget, the votes are not there. (Especially in the Senate where 60 votes will be needed.)

This is tricky because the Republican administration understands what failure could do to the country. Budget director, Mick Mulvaney, is now supporting a debt limit increase. But when he served in Congress, Mulvaney said he was willing to risk a default to force a discussion on spending.

In both the House and the Senate votes from Democrats will be needed to pass the debt limit. But will there be enough Republicans.

If Congress does not pass the debt limit, the United States would be “catastrophic.” And, almost immediately, this failure would impact federal budgets because interest rates would spike upward. Interest rates are already the fastest growing part of the federal budget and a sharp increase in rates would add significantly to the total federal debt. In other words: By voting against a debt limit increase, Congress would make the debt problem worse. Far worse.

But Republicans have campaigned against a debt limit increase for a long time. It’s going to be one tough vote.

In case you’re keeping score:

  • Republican leaders plus Democrats will be needed to increase the debt limit.
  • Most Republicans including the House Freedom Caucus will need to vote for the budget and appropriations bills.
  • Or, those budget and spending bills will have to include more Democratic priorities to win that party’s support.

So yes, September is going to be a mess. And after the budget, spending bills, and debt limit is complete, there’s still tax reform on the agenda. Yet another mess.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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Planning day: Ahead of the chaos

The budget story I’d like to post around Labor Day. There will be no action until Congress returns. Lots of questions for Indian programs — especially if there is a budget. (The flip side of that is a Continuing Resolution. Or, more of the same.) Energy disruption story is long range. Reporting now.

Health care. I am looking through my notes now. This story is not over. I’ve been thinking about crafting a piece about what the Indian Health system should look like.




It seems me there ought to be a way to make the budget story compelling. There is some interesting — and dangerous stuff going on. Forget numbers. Better to tell a story.


In addition to my weekly reports, I am producing 30 minute specials for tribal radio stations. First piece I’d like to have ready for tribal radio stations.

(And of course I have academic duties & writing I need to do soon.)


— Mark

Obesity in Indian Country is mostly the same; why that’s incremental progress

IHS Diabetes Fact Sheet, published July 2017.

A fundamental question about government

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The most fundamental question about government is this: Does it work? When does government — tribal, state or federal — actually make a difference in our lives?

There are two ways to answer that question, data and story. Data tells what happens over time, a reference point that ought to provide the proof of self-government. But story is what we tell ourselves about what works, and more often, what does not work. Ideally data and story lead us to the same conclusion.

One problem with data is that it measures incremental progress. That should be a good thing. But when telling a story it’s awfully difficult to report that things are kinda, sorta getting better. We humans want clarity, a success story, right? Or even an outright failure.

Yet progress is often measured slowly.

We all know there is an epidemic of diabetes in Native American communities. Yet it’s also true that adult diabetes rates for American Indian and Alaska Natives have not increased in recent years, and there has been a significant drop in both vision-related diseases and kidney failures. Incremental progress.

Now a new study, one that is built on a massive amount of data, reports that obesity among Native American youth is mostly the same.

“The prevalence of overweight and obesity among AI/AN children in this population may have stabilized, while remaining higher than prevalence for US children overall,” according to a study published last month by the American Journal of Public Health. The study concluded that American Indian and Alaska Native youth still have higher rates of obesity than the total population, but those rates have remained constant for a decade. In other words: The problem is not getting worse. (At least, mostly.) This report is remarkable because it reflects a huge amount of data – reports from at least 184,000 active patients in the Indian health system – from across geographic regions and age groups. Most scientific studies rely on a small sample group, making it difficult to compare regions or even break down the data by gender or age. (So Native Americans who are treated outside of the Indian health system would not be included in this data.)

The results: “In 2015, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in AI/AN children aged 2 to 19 years was 18.5% and 29.7%, respectively. Boys had higher obesity prevalence than girls (31.5% vs 27.9%). Children aged 12 to 19 years had a higher prevalence of over- weight and obesity than younger children. The AI/AN children in our study had a higher prevalence of obesity than US children overall in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Results for 2006 through 2014 were similar.”

The findings show that the problem is not getting worse. And that is incremental progress.

To put this report into a policy context, think about the hundreds of programs that are designed to get Native American youth more active. Or the education campaigns to improve diet and to encourage exercise that occur every day across Indian Country.

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This is timely data because Congress must soon reauthorize the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. And this report is evidence that $150 million program works and it’s also worth a continued investment by taxpayers. (Remember: Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, are by far the most expensive part of health care. Every dollar spent on prevention saves many, many more down the road.)

The goal of course must be a decline in overweight and obesity statistics, not just stability. (And one warning sign in the report is that there was a slight increase in severe obesity even while the general trend is stable.)

The report, by Ann Bullock, MD, Karen Sheff, MS, Kelly Moore, MD, and Spero Manson, PhD, said there are many reasons for a higher obesity prevalence in American Indian and Alaska Native children but also said this was a “relatively new phenomenon seen only in the past few generations. The explanations range from the rapid transition from a physically active subsistence lifestyle to the wage economy and sedentary lifestyle. Add to that the risk factors of poverty, stress, and trauma.

“Indeed, many AI/ AN people live in social and physical environments that place them at higher risk than many other US persons for exposure to traumatic events,” the study found. “Among children in a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study, the experience of numerous negative life events in childhood increased risk for overweight by age 15 years. Another contributing factor to obesity in children living in lower-income households is food insecurity, which is the lack of dependable access to sufficient quantities of high-quality foods. Even before birth, stress and inadequate nutrition during pregnancy alter metabolic programming, increasing the risk for later obesity in the offspring.”

Because obesity is a relatively new phenomenon seen only in the past few generations, there is much that can be done to reverse the trend. And that starts with making sure the problem is not getting worse. Then we can get healthier. Kinda, sorta, at least.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant /